The far north of France is one of those places that many don’t know about. Rushing off to the south for a bit of sun, they completely miss this surprising, vibrant and authentic corner of France that’s on the doorstep of England.
Here’s why you should really add Nord-Pas-de-Calais to your visit list – from great gastronomy to a long history, more museums than any region outside of Ile de France (Paris) and friendly folk…
The beautiful city of Arras is a fabulous, atmospheric, and architecturally striking place to visit. It was decimated during WW1 and rebuilt but it’s hard to tell what is original and what is not. There’s plenty to do and see in this 2000 year old city from climbing the UNESCO listed Belfry for great views, wandering the pretty cobbled streets, a very good Fine Arts Museum, shops, bars and restaurants.
Le Touquet Paris-Plage is a small seaside resort on the beautiful Opal Coast. Architecturally it has a mix of British Edwardian and French Belle Epoque styles. Combined with a zest for outdoor living (and its own microclimate), swanky shops and excellent bars and restaurants. It’s a brilliant place for a weekend break (or longer). With loads of activities from relaxing on the endless sandy beach to water sports, a historic golf course, horse riding in the sand dunes, tennis and much more – you seriously won’t want for things to do here.
Around an hour from the port town of Calais, Montreuil-sur-Mer in northern France offers a slice of history and gastronomy as this little town is home to a superb Michelin star restaurant and a dozen truly excellent brasseries, restaurants and cafés, with the label “Destination Gastronomique”. Wander the ramparts, stroll the cobbled streets and in the summer don’t miss the chance to see “Les Miserables” performed at the citadel. Hundreds of local townsfolk take part in this homage to Victor Hugo and his famous tale which was inspired by the writer’s visit to the town in 1837.
Take the D940 road, the Route 66 of northern France to discover the beautiful coastline known as the Opal Coast thanks to its extraordinary light. Dramatic cliffs, secret sandy coves where sealions bask authentic fishing villages and seaside towns brimming with cosy bistros. Stop off at for a spot of sand yachting in Wimereux, famous for its colourful Belle Epoque villas and Wissant where General Charles de Gaulle used to holiday. There’s 124 miles of beaches, historic sites and natural areas that have been preserved.
Boulogne-sur-Mer is known for many things – its lovely old town with cobbled streets and elegant squares, the premier fishing port in France and home to Nausicaa, the French National Sea Centre and the largest aquarium in Europe. The old town is extraordinarily pretty, like a film set with its ached entrances to the former walled city, chateau museum and fascinating Basilica which has the longest crypt in France. The town is also place of pilgrimage for many Argentinians who flock to visit the Casa San Martin, the last home of the famous general who liberated South America in the 19th Century.
Lille is one of the most cultural cities in the country. There are more than a dozen museums and art venues in the city and every three years or so Lille goes arty-party mad with a major several-months-long art festival known as Lille3000 in public buildings and the streets. A fabulous food scene and great bars, beautiful historic old city and brilliant shopping – what more can you ask!
Famous for its football team and rich mining history, the city of Lens, with its art deco facades, is at the heart of a culturally dynamic region that boasts a strong network of museums including an astonishing branch of the Louvre Museum.This very modern gallery, built on the site of an old coal mine is stunningly innovative and despite its youth has a lot of soul. The exhibitions range from ancient to contemporary and you can walk around and get up close and personal in a way that’s not possible in most museums.
Immortalised in history by Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of some 400,000 men from the beaches in 1940. Visit the Dunkirk War Museum to find out more. Don’t miss dinner or lunch aboard the paddle steamer Princess Elizabeth in Dunkirk. She was built in Southampton in 1927 and took part in the evacuation as well as in the in blockbuster Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan. Every year on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the town goes carnival crazy with one of the most fun and friendly carnivals in France.
Cars wind their way helter-skelter-like, up and around the Mont of Cassel until suddenly, they reach the cobbled roads that lead into the small town voted favourite town of the French in 2018. Go for the big views at the top of this famous hill of French Flanders where the “Grand Old Duke of York marched 10,000 men”. Don’t miss the multi award winning garden known as the Jardins du Mont des Récollets. This rather unusual garden is famous in France, in fact it was voted favourite garden of the French in 2011.
The great artist Henri Matisse was born in Cambrai and in 1952, he established a museum there defining how the 82 paintings he donated to the museum should be arranged. Now housed in the 18th century former Archbishops Palace, the Matisse collection has expanded and the museum also includes works by Chagall, Léger, Rouault, Miro, and Le Corbusier plus photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson
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Toulouse in the Haute Garonne department far south of France, within easy driving distance of the Spanish border, is a brilliant all year round place to visit. But in Autumn, when the crowds have thinned and the low golden sun licks the red brick buildings and makes them glow, and falling leaves flutter along the cobbled streets – Toulouse is just about perfect…
It’s impossible not fall under the spell of the Capitole in the centre of Toulouse. The emblematic building with a stunning 17th century neoclassical style façade is the beating heart of the city. Around it are a series of districts each quite different from the other and all easy to reach on foot. Pick up a map from the tourist office and go walkabout to discover Toulouse’s many charms.
Autumn is the ideal time to visit the museums of Toulouse – and you’ve certainly got plenty of choice.
Don’ t miss Les Abbatoirs Museum, which you won’t be surprised to discover is in a former abattoir.
The museum and guided tour of Aeroscopia 'Let's visit Airbus' opened in January 2015 and presents the legendary models of French aviation.
The Toulouse Museum, located in the city centre, is the second largest natural history museum in France. The museum has a superb collection of modern and contemporary art with works by Picasso many Spanish artists exiled from Spain when General Franco seized power during the Spanish Civil War. This is no elitist museum, you can do yoga classes amongst the artworks, workshops, a library and at Christmas they hold a market where artists sell their works. After your visit pop to the park next door to enjoy the views over the river Garonne and the soft sun puts on a dazzling show turning the autumn leaves every shade of gold.
The Bemberg Museum has an exquisite collection of artwork in a former 16th century mansion where each room has been restored to 19th century glory to showcase the wonderful collection of paintings, furniture and ornaments including Degas, Monet, Matisse and Boudin.
The Augustins Museum, Museum of Fine Arts located in the former Augustinian monastery is home to medieval sculptures and a large collection of paintings from the fifteenth to nineteenth century. It’s one of the oldest museums in France.
The Museum of Old Toulouse offers a large collection of pieces representing the artistic and historical past of the city.
The Museum of Companionship, former residence of the companions, the museum now displays the objects they produced there.
The Paul Dupuy museum displays many decorative and graphic objects.
The Georges Labit Museum has an extensive art collection of ancient civilizations.
In the vast space of the Halle de la Machine mysterious inhabitants are waiting to meet you. Amongst the exhibits are a walking 37 ton spider called Ariane and musical machines which make up the strangest orchestra you’re ever likely to see. There’s a giant set of wings piloted by a machiniste, pipes which spout flames, twirling guitars and a table laid for an enchanted dinner where the pepper is sprinkled by a flying waiter. And best of all you can ride on a giant minotaur (half bull, half man) who roams the streets carrying passengers in a temple on his back!
With mild temperatures in autumn, al fresco dining can feel like summer. It’s usually still warm enough to sit at a terrace café in the sun most days though you might need a jacket in the evenings. It’s the perfect time to enjoy a glass of local red wine in one of the many elegant squares in the city. We like lively Place St Georges in the historic centre. one of the most popular places with the locals. Try Monsieur Georges bar/restaurant with its colourful décor is ideal for a rendezvous with a glass of wine and in the evening it’s perfect for dinner on the terrace. Indulge in a seriously tasty menu, deliciously decadent desserts and scrumptious cocktails.
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October in France is just right for a few sunshine days out and heaps to see and do. You might need a jacket or cardigan for sitting outside - but that just gives you an excuse to enjoy a cup of chocolat chaud!
Here are 5 places to go this October…
Get an end of year dose of vitamin. Head to the south of France where the crowds are thinned out but in early October the Mediterranean Sea is just warm enough for swimming and the days hot enough to sunbathe or an afternoon doze under an olive tree with average temperatures of 18˚C and plenty of sunshine. Book a table by the beach for lunch and in the evening head into the town or to Nice by train, it takes just 15 minutes.
Enjoy a day in Monaco, the train takes around 40 minutes or head into the interior for a spot of hiking. You could even pop over the border to Italy which is a short drive or a train journey of around 50 minutes to Ventimiglia. It’s a very pretty town with a historic district, lovely beaches and a gem of a market selling fabulous local specialities like ravioli and pizza.
Bordeaux city is the perfect place to visit in October, pleasantly warm and with loads to see and do. Enjoy the wonderful restaurants and bars and of course a spot of wine tasting is de rigeur in one of France’s best wine regions. In fact October is a great month for foodies with an annual food and wine festival in the centre. Head out into the vineyards and little wine towns - Saint Emilion is irresistible and in October holds an annual hot air balloon festival. There are plenty of museums including Bordeaux’s work famous wine museum.
Known as the foodie capital of France, it’s THE place to go if you like great food. The historic old town is atmospheric and as the nights draw in earlier in October, perfect for a just before dusk stroll and an aperitif in the cobbled streets before dinner in a warmly lit bouchon – traditional restaurant. October also sees the Festival Lumière take plage. A prestigious festival which sees many film celebrities head to Lyon for nearly a week (for instance2019 Lumiere Award winner Francis Ford Coppola). Conferences, exhibitions, parties and more than 180 projections are open to the public.
UNESCO listed Loire Valley is an any time of the year place to visit but in October when the vines are all colours of red and gold, this lovely part of France is nigh on perfect. It’s a sensory overload region with historic, exquisite chateaux such as Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau and Chambord. There are beautiful little villages and towns to discover. And you can catch the end of France’s biggest garden festival at the Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire (April-November).
Pairs is always a good idea and in autumn – even more so! October in Paris means the weather is usually cool but dry, culture is on the menu with exhibitions galore, plus you can enjoy walks in parks where the leaves on the trees are red and gold and finish with hot chocolate in a café wrapped up against the cool, crisp air.
Make the most of new season’s shopping and head to a wine festival in the centre of Paris. Held every October, the Fête des vendanges de Montmartre celebrates the art of food and wine. It’s one of the most popular events with Parisians and includes free concerts, exhibitions, parades and tastings in the heart of the city.
And the unmissable event of the month, held every first Saturday of October is the Nuit Blanche Paris Art Festival. For one night only, each year Paris becomes an open-air museum. There is nothing quite like this truly astonishing night of art, culture and surprises. As dusk falls, the city springs to life as an extravaganza of luminous installations and sensory experiences astonish audiences. Nuit Blanche hands the city over to contemporary artists to reimagine its streets and buildings and the public are invited to join in. This is an exceptional night of art that will thrill, provoke and amaze from dusk to dawn. This one event alone is enough reason to visit Paris in the Autumn!
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After the summer crowds are gone but sunny days are still plentiful, it’s the ideal time for a trip to the exquisite little Ile de Ré, just off the coast of La Rochelle in Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes.
You can drive to the island by car via a toll bridge or take a bus from the centre of La Rochelle. Or you could leave the car behind and take the pedestrian only boat from La Rochelle to Saint-Martin-de-Ré – one of the loveliest towns on the island, though there are many. You don’t need a car to enjoy its many charms though you might wish you had one if you like to shop, there are loads of fabulous boutiques here.
Saint-Martin-de-Ré is the main town on the island, the mini capital of Ile de Ré. There are great restaurants, bistros, bars, and ice cream shops. The town is protected by Vauban build fortressed walls which give it world heritage site status and spreads out around a stunningly pretty waterfront.. In the 1670s, Louis XIV’s French military engineer Vauban, was commissioned to overhaul the island’s defences - they were listed on the UNESCO heritage list in 2008. Climb the bell tower of the church for a panoramic view over the roofs of the terracotta-roofed houses in this “Plus beaux village de France” (official list of prettiest villages in France). If you’re lucky you’ll spot donkeys dressed in stripy trousers, a local tradition from the days when mosquitoes were a problem. They’re not now but hey, who doesn’t love a donkey in a pair of trousers!
Another “plus beaux village” on Ile de Ré, La Flotte is a tiny harbour town that well worth stopping off at. Wander the narrow streets to discover lovely coffee shops and bistros, shops and art galleries. Don’t, whatever you do, miss the market, it really is fantastically pretty with a great atmosphere.
Salt has been produced on the island since the middle ages. Fleur de sel salt is famous in France but it was hardly known outside of the Ile de Ré 20 years ago. People saw it on TV on programmes like MasterChef and wanted to buy it, now fleur de sel is revered. It costs several times what the originally salt costs as production time is much more consuming and depends on terroir, the strange French word that’s untranslatable into English but includes the climate, the land and more. The little tubs of salt make for a perfect (not heavy) souvenir of your visit.
New to the Ile de Ré and brilliant fun, tuk tuk rides can now be booked in La Flotte, Le Bois-Plage, La Couarde and Saint Martin de Ré. This fleet of environmentally friendly, 100% electric tuk tuks are the most fun way to take a tour. You can even get picked up from your holiday accommodation and dropped off in town or back at your pickup point. The great thing about a Tuk tour is that they can access all areas so you get to see the tiny oyster shacks that cars can’t reach, the local drivers can show you the secret places, the salt marshes and off the beaten track. Book at the tourist office or through https://www.retuktuk.com/
Cycling is a favourite pastime on the island and we’re not surprised. It’s pretty much completely flat, takes around two hours to go from one end of the island to the other and has more than 60 miles of signposted cycle paths which wind through vineyards and fields. And with the same number of sunshine hours as the south of France, cycling is the best way to see the best bits of this pretty little island. It’s easy to hire a bike on the island with loads of outlets in the towns.
Autumn is the ideal time to take a holiday or short break in France. Summer isn’t quite over, the crowds have slipped away and the sun is still warm…
A major bonus of spending time in France now is that you can find beautiful accommodation at great value prices. French Connections website lists thousands of holiday lets, gites and B&Bs in France and in autumn many owners adjust their rates for low season and have special offers for autumn weeks.
After the long summer holidays, as the leaves turn colour and the grapes are harvested, France has an air of celebration. It’s a great time to enjoy the relaxing pace of life, visit the colourful countryside, autumn vineyards, deserted beaches and cities that aren’t crowded.
A holiday let or gite offers plenty of space for your money and the opportunity to settle into a home from home with excellent amenities. This means you can return from a day’s activities to your own private retreat. Choose whether to dine out or light the log fire and have a meal of delicious local food and wine in your own cosy dining room. We have a range of holiday lets from budget to luxury in all regions of France.
Chateau du Rivau autumn
France offers a great choice of outdoor activities and many people prefer the cooler conditions of autumn for fishing or golf. It’s also the ideal time to take to the impressive network of tracks and paths for cycling, horse riding, walking and trekking. Autumnal hues provide a colourful subject on which to practice – or even learn – the skills of painting and photography.
It’s also a good time for staying in the country and planning sightseeing in towns and cities. Annecy in the Haute-Savoie has clear air, lakeside strolls and mountain views, while Carcassonne’s winding medieval lanes take you on a trip back in time. Hop on a train to visit sunny Avignon, the city of the popes, Bordeaux for the wine or Tours for the Loire chateaux – many of them are famous for their autumn gardens, such as the lovely Chateau du Rideau (above). For history there is Chartres, while for glamour and beaches, Nice is hard to beat.
A wine tour is a great idea for autumn, with the chance to take in harvest celebrations and the launch of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Smaller vineyards offer tastings and the opportunity to learn more about grapes, wine and that mysterious ‘terroir’ factor.
Many owners of gites and B&Bs love to share their knowledge about what to see and do as well as the history of their area to help you make the most of your autumn break.
To book your autumn break and see all the special offers, head to our home page and enjoy picking out your dream holiday home…
Once a flourishing textile and manufacturing powerhouse, Mulhouse in Alsace, Eastern France is now undergoing a metamorphosis following a downturn in its major industries of engineering, printing and textiles. With an impressive number of museums, including the biggest car museum in the world, and home to the largest artists’ residence in France, Mulhouse is once again thriving.
The no. 1 attraction in Mulhouse, drawing visitors from all around the world is the Cité de l’Automobile. There are over 400 cars at this immense museum. Drool over incredibly well preserved masterpieces dating as far back as the first days of French motoring in the 1870s to the 1970s. There’s also a collection of awesome racing cars that are more modern. Priceless Bugatti’s take centre stage, gleaming and sleek, they’re as rare as hens teeth. Hire a classic car to drive round the private track at the museum, take the kids to enjoy a go kart track, games and workshops. There’s so much here you can easily spend an entire day at this one.
The train museum of Mulhouse has the biggest collection of trains in the world. There are locomotives from the 1840’s through to the newer steam and diesel and electric trains that are still in use. Get your bearings on the Petite train ride round the museum which is monumental. Ride a diesel train on the museum’s private track and hope on a mini-railways to see the exhibits in the huge yard. With impressive, interactive exhibits, no matter what your age, this museum is huge fun.
The town hall was built in 1553 and is famous for its trompe l'oeil paintings – medieval street art! The eagle eyed will spot a stone head hanging from a chain, known as the klapperstein, which weighs 12 kilos and used to be hung from the necks of gossipers and scandalmongers, who were made to wear it while riding around the city backwards on a donkey!
A museum dedicated to electricity? Well Yes. It’s right next door to the train museum and, it’s the biggest of its kind in Europe. There’s a working steam generator from 1901, an exhibition covering early experiments conducted from the 17th century up to modern day, and plenty of vintage machinery, from Thomas Edison’s Dictaphone to early versions of TV’s and fridges.
Founded in 1868 and covering more than 20 hectares of the Tannenwald Forest, Mulhouse zoo contains over 1000 animals. More than 170 different species live here including polar bears and artic foxes, Siberian tigers, snow leopards and meerkats. The botanical gardens make for a tranquil break. In the summer months over 400 types of Iris flowers bloom beautifully alongside exotic trees from Japan and America.
Website: Discover more to see and do in Mulhouse at: https://www.tourisme-mulhouse.com/EN/home.html
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Le Mans old town
You might know Sarthe for one thing – Le Mans. But, there’s much more to this area than motor racing. Glorious countryside, chateaux, vineyards and historic towns galore. Here are our top tips for what to see and do in the department of Sarthe…
Le Mans racing is the biggest draw in Sarthe and quite rightly, there is a museum dedicated to the sport. Discover the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a collection of more than 100 vehicles including 11 winners of the 24 Hour Race. Exclusive film and photos bring the tale of this iconic race to life, plus there are working models and animated games.
Around a quarter of a million people visit Le Mans for the racing in June and around 99% of them are unaware of the old town a few steps from the legendary racecourse. Don’t miss out on the medieval town with its cobbled alleys and wonky half-timbered houses, once a Plantagenet stronghold (top photo). And, there are Roman ruins too! On the edge of the old town is the Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans, the city’s first bishop. Built between the 6th and the 14th century, it features many French Gothic elements. From July to early September, the town puts on a sound and light show known as Nuits des Chimeres.
5 minutes by car or about 15 minutes by tram from Le Mans city centre you’ll find the Domaine de l’Épau and the Abbaye Royale de l’Épau, one of the finest examples of Cistercian architecture in France. It was commissioned in 1229 by Berengaria of Navarre, widow of Richard the Lionheart, who is buried there. There’s also a delightful café where they make delicious home-made cakes!
The Domaine de l’Épau, next to the abbey, is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It covers 600 hectares and hosts two restaurants and a bar, ideal for a taste of the countryside. There’s plenty to do for the whole family from canoeing to climbing.
The Zoo de La Fleche is home to an impressive 1500 animals and is very popular with kids. The town of La Fleche is interesting to visit and has a lovely Sunday morning market. Close by is the impressive Chateau de la Lude which is still lived in but you can visit the Chateau and gardens. The Chateau at Baugé close by is also worth a visit with its ancient Plantagenet staircase and vaulted ceilings. Baugé is classified one of the “Most beautiful detours of France” for its pretty town, surrounded by wonderful countryside and vineyards. It’s also home to an incredible 17th century pharmacy and hospital museum and yes, it really is well worth a detour.
Chestnut and oak trees, forests, chateaux and grand houses, the river Loir, medieval towns, boulangeries and brasseries – welcome to the Vallée du Loir. We’ve all heard of La Loire with its famous Chateaux and fabulous vineyards but Le Loir, its neighbour is not quite so well known. Literally translated it means the Valley of the Dormouse.
The wines of this area are unique – peppery Côteaux du Loir and crisp Jasnières. You rarely see them outside of the area, so leave room in the car to stock up.
With more than 40 attractions, Papea Parc is the biggest amusement park in Pays de la Loire.
Located near Huisne, there are rides water games a Magic Show, circus and huge park just right for kids that need to let off steam.
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